I don’t do it to stay fit (though it helps with that). I do it for my soul.
Even as a child, I knew that diving into a pool (or a lake or the sea) and stroking through it swept me into a place of pure peace. It induced a deep meditative state that brought lucidity, harmony, and wonderment. Today, it instantly resets my essence, so often sullied from the effects of living in our noisy world, so often led astray by intrusions of fear, anxiety, depression, and obsession.
Swimming clears my mind. Fluid and free, it welcomes me when I weep, taking my tears into its wholeness, washing them into its largesse. When, I’m gleeful, it celebrates with me, encircling my limbs, begging them to work harder, to pump blood through every inch of my body. When I’m confused, I freestyle and breaststroke my way to answers.
Swimming teaches me. Be like water it whispers, as I somersault below the surface, weightless and empowered by movement. Beneath water, the sun’s light bounces and radiates as magic dust expelled from a wand. In the pool, I learn to apply swimming to life—to sometimes go around things, not through them. Like water, I never give up. I make my mark, as water does to a stone, with repetitive tasks, like seekers knocking on wisdom’s door. Each time I plunge in, water—swimming—gives me my chance to be a blank slate, to start again, to be pliant, porous, open, and renewed.
For many cultures, water (and the immersion in it), reoccurs as a symbol of rebirth and revival. Water was where we swam as babes in the womb, and today, it comprises more than fifty percent of our bodies. It epitomizes the lifeblood that courses through us, so to swim amongst its malleability is to remember both our vulnerability and our strength, to be enlivened by the very vividness of the moment, the very instantaneous celebration of being alive.
Swimming teaches me. “Be like water,” it whispers as I somersault below the surface, weightless and empowered by movement.
While most people intuitively connect to water, a recent tome, Blue Mind, by Wallace J. Nichols, pays homage to the mood altering effects of simply being near water—let alone swimming in it. According to Nichols, “water unleashes the uninhibited child in all of us, unlocking our creativity and curiosity.” He shows how exercise beside water (let alone inside it) enhances the effect, exponentially reducing stress.
Reminding us that water helps us relax—the sound of it, for example—Nichols further extols it for enhancing creativity. According to him, a shower alone can spark an idea, something I know to be true, though my go-to stimulus between paragraphs is a bubble bath or thirty minutes of idea producing laps. Nichols reminds us that humans have always swum to relax—think about the Romans and their commitment to healing springs. And, in all ancient disciplines from Ayurveda to Chinese medicine, water plays a critical part in healing and wisdom. Blue space for Nichols, is water—it’s why humans have an affinity for shades of blue. It soothes us, lowers our stress levels, and brings us to a mindful place.
As a travel, I find my blue space everywhere I go. Pools invite me to enter them, as sanctuaries call to the bereaved and longing. Here are some that have given me grace.
One Aldwych, London In Covent Garden, ensconced in a refurbished newspaper building, One Aldwych, A Leading Hotel of the World, flourishes as a chichi, fine-art-rich, hotel, known as a haven for glitterati. But its true inner sanctum is its 59-foot, chlorine-free, lap pool, where a wall projects a video of colorful sea life. Subterranean, mood-lit, and equipped with an underwater music system, it offers ultimate quietude from urbanity. I reward myself after laps with drinks at its bustling Lobby Bar. onealdwych.com
Grand Hotel Tremezzo, Lake Como While its difficult to leave my rooftop suite with views of the lake to swim, I eventually venture to this historic villa-style hotel’s eye-popping, see-and-be-seen, floating pool, called Water-on-the-Water. Immense and hovering atop Lake Como, fringed by T-Beach (equipped with sand, umbrellas, lounges, and Prosecco-laden waiters) and blessed with a happening bar, it’s the perfect spot for people watching, as well as exercise. grandhoteltremezzo
Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina Set on Oahu’s lesser-traveled western side, Ko Olina means “place of joy.” On a landmass, shadowed by mountains, edged by sea, considered sacred by ancient Hawaiians, the 17-story hotel incorporates their legacy and teachings in its Hawaii-centric programs and presentations. Elegant and culture-rich, with Hawaiiana design motifs—such as banana leaf headboards—the hotel boasts Oahu’s only oceanside lap pool. I swim here at sunset, bathing in rose-colored light. A magnificent spot for a Mai Tai, this adult-cool splash zone exudes harmony. fourseasons.com/oahu
Park Hyatt New York Incorporating cityscape through panoramic windows and Manhattan elegance through understated, sleek decor, this Mid-town hotel seems to hover, embraced by surrounding skyscrapers. It’s Spa Nalai soothes with pampering on the same floor as its lap pool. As I swim here, I swoon to Carnegie Hall tunes piped by underwater speakers in celebration of the adjacent concert venue. A cool urban-blue light suffuses the pool from colossal windows. newyork.park.hyatt.com
Shangri La Paris In the bedazzling former home of Napoleon Bonaparte’s grandnephew, Prince Roland Bonaparte, this regal stay offers easy access to the fashion houses along Avenue Montaigne. A villa, with suite balconies made for sipping Champagne with the Eiffel Tower in view, the hotel never lets me forget I’ve arrived in Paris. Even its stunning lap pool presents the Art Nouveau icon in all its glory. I do my workout at night when the tower glitters with colorful lights. shangri-laparis
Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort In the sylvan jungle of northern Thailand, where two rivers converge and three countries can be seen from the balconies, this lodge-like resort cares for rescued elephants in a nature preserve setting. While I spend days walking with, bathing, and feeding friendly pachyderms, I cool off at intervals in the resort’s long, blue-and-gold, glass-tiled, infinity pool which overlooks the elephant-filled expanses. I cap my swim here with a masterful Thai massage in the multi-storied spa. spa.goldentriangle.anantara.com
The Finest Playa Mujeres In a less-developed part of greater Cancun, with views of Islas Mujeres, this sun-dappled all-inclusive, family-friendly resort is a symphony of Santorini-like white and blue, built to frame a perfect crescent of sugary beach—and pools galore. While the kids splash in the mega-pool, rife with activities, I escape to the garden-sited lap pool near the spa, which features an array of indigenously inspired treatments. I can’t resist a chile-infused margarita for my efforts. finestresorts.com
Montpelier Plantation At this Relais & Chateaux hotel on Nevis, I live like the locals—above the sea in a cottage overlooking the water. When I hanker to put my toes in the sea, I grab a bike and pedal downhill to the hotel’s private beach. But, mostly I stay on the be-flowered property, dining inside a restored sugar mill and taking laps in the glamorous pool, which serves as the property’s al-fresco living room. montpeliernevis.com
Becca Hensley is Editor at Large for Insider's Guide to Spas. Based in Austin, she writes regularly about travel and spas. She believes a good story draws you in like laughter in a crowded room, and challenges you to do it justice. Her work appears regularly in Austin Monthly, Travel Channel, Toronto Star and National Geographic Traveler.